There will be no cap on the number of surf fishing tags sold next summer, but drive-on beachgoers will have to pay a fee on weekends.
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control announced the change Wednesday.
The agency said the change will be piloted for the 2023 surf fishing permit program after record interest in the program in 2022.
Rather than issuing a limited number of surf tags, the DNREC Division of Parks and Recreation will use a technology-based reservation system for managing capacity on summer weekends, when the state’s surf fishing beaches are in highest demand.
Reservations will cost $4 per day and reserve access from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“Removal of the cap will eliminate the rush that has occurred in recent years while allowing everyone equal access to purchase a surf fishing permit over a prolonged period,” said Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View.
The department initiated a comprehensive review of the program last spring in response to unprecedented permit sales for the 2022 season, including the opening day for sales when the online permitting system was temporarily overwhelmed and surf fishing permits sold out in just a few hours.
The historic sales volume peaked at 742 permits being issued per minute, with the sales cap of 17,000 permits reached in under four hours.
In a press release, Clark Evans, president of the Delaware Mobile Surf-Fishermen Club, said the club participated in DNREC’s “productive” stakeholder discussions, but voiced its opposition to the new reservation fee system.
“We also shared concerns about enforcement issues and permit holder understanding and acceptance of the reservation system. Our strenuous objection to the reservation system and many other concerns were again communicated to Parks staff at our monthly membership meeting in Oct. 2022,” Evans said.
“DMS supports the removal of the cap on the number of surf tags sold each year. We believe the cap created an artificial market resulting in the tags selling out progressively faster each of the last few years. This was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused many people to relocate to Delaware and subsequently desire surf fishing tags,” Evans said.
DNREC’s review of the program looked at best practices from around the country, as well as other states’ models for viable solutions to improve the sales process, delivery of permits, compliance with surf fishing regulations, enforcement and public safety.
“Over the last few years, we have implemented changes such as single-stack parking and increased surf fishing checkpoints at the beach crossings, which have improved public safety and the visitor experience,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin.
“Piloting the changes of dropping the cap requirement, implementing a reservation system for summer weekends, and adding an educational component was the next logical step to better manage the program for the future,” Garvin said.
DNREC’s surf fishing permit program review and evaluation also included gathering data and information about the existing surf fishing program from staff and permit-holders, and researching best practices to identify potential strategies.
The Division of Parks and Recreation sent surveys to more than 30,000 current and previous surf fishing permit holders and received more than 7,000 responses.
A stakeholder workgroup was formed in May to evaluate the data and provide feedback on potential solutions.
“The stakeholder committee did a thorough job of evaluating potential solutions and I am pleased that the existing 17,000 sales cap is being removed,” said Rep. Ron Gray, R-Bethany Beach.
The workgroup comprised members from various backgrounds including four members of the Delaware General Assembly, leaders of a homeowner’s association of a neighborhood bordering the state park, the Department of Transportation, the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association, the Delaware Parks and Recreation Advisory Council, Delaware Mobile Surf Fishermen, a bait and tackle shop owner and experts in environmental science from Delaware universities.
The recommendations were presented and endorsed by the Parks and Recreation Council in August 2022.
Changes to the surf fishing program:
- Remove the existing 17,000-permit sales cap.
- Pilot the new surf fishing permit reservation system.
- Reservations will be required Saturdays, Sundays and holidays starting the third weekend in May through Labor Day weekend, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Peak holidays are: Memorial Day, Juneteenth, 4th of July and Labor Day.
- Reservations will be $4 per day and will reserve access from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Reservations will not be available for Off-Peak surf tag permit holders.
- Reservations will be for a specific beach location and can be made for one of seven different locations.
- Reservations can be made conveniently online (desktop and mobile) or through the Division of Parks and Recreation’s call center. Reservations cannot be made in-person at the state parks or at the DNREC central office in Dover.
- Reservations must be printed and displayed in the vehicle for enforcement verification. Mobile verification may be used as a backup.
- Weekend reservations will be made available weekly. Reservations will be first-come, first-served and will open the same week for the coming weekend, including holidays. Reservations will be accepted starting on the same weekday throughout the peak surf fishing season. The day of the week will be announced by DNREC before the reservation system is launched in May.
- Reservations will continue to be taken through 4 p.m. on the day-of if space allows accommodating same-day reservations.
- One reservation will be allowed per surf tag permit holder per day, and reservations are non-refundable and non-transferable.
- Even after a park reaches capacity, anglers with surf fishing reservations will be allowed into the park,
- Annual surf fishing permit holders can access the beach without a reservation on weekends and holidays after 4 p.m., but must be off the beach by 8 a.m. the next morning.
- Anglers who previously purchased a two-year permit (2022-23) will be subject to the new reservation system. A full refund of the second year will be available to permit holders upon request no later than March 31, 2023.
- “The reservation system will eliminate delays and access issues when state park day-use lots reach capacity by still allowing surf fishing permit reservation holders to access the drive-on beaches. It also allows someone with a reservation to leave and return later if they choose. Reservation systems are being utilized by many state and national park systems as a means to manage overcrowding or capacity concerns,” said Joseph Smack, chair of the state’s Park and Recreation Council.
- Require viewing an instructional surf fishing video for permit holders.
- Anyone purchasing a surf fishing permit will be required to acknowledge they have watched an instructional video with beach driving tips, including requisite understanding of airing down vehicle tires, in-vehicle mandatory equipment, and safety requirements for surf fishing on state park beaches.
The surf fishing permit fee remains unchanged for 2023 and sales are anticipated to start in December.
For more information, including answers to frequently asked questions, visit this link.
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